[OUTLOOK]Run aground in a sea of sharingWarren Buffett, the chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, announced last week his plans to give $37.4 billion to charity. This news came as a shock, and I felt guilty, having given little to charity myself.
After the news came out, I met an owner of a conglomerate, and he seemed uneasy about the news. When he inherited the business from his father, the inheritance tax he paid was recorded as the largest amount ever at the time. But he still seemed worried that the news about Mr. Buffett’s donation would put more pressure on businesses here.
Suspicions remain that when Korea’s top companies donated as much as 800 billion won ($842 million) or even 1 trillion won, they did not make the decisions willingly, but rather because they felt forced to do so by social pressure. Under these circumstances, the American businessman’s promise to donate 85 percent of his assets could result in further pressure on Korean businessmen. These worries by businessmen seem natural, because Koreans who heard the news about Mr. Buffett seem to think that big companies or people with large fortunes should contribute more, rather than more people sharing what they have.
We need to look into the fact that donations in our society are overly dependent on the business sector. Although the number of individual donors has been increasing year by year, donations made by individuals account for 30 percent of the total, while donations by businesses make up 70 percent. In the United States, this ratio is 8-2, and in Japan, 9-1.
There is another thing: Mr. Buffett’s promised donation of $37.4 billion accounts for just one-fifth of U.S. yearly donations of $200 billion. He plans to donate the money over five years, so his average yearly donation will be $7.5 billion. This amount will still not account for even 4 percent of the country’s yearly donations to charity.
In sum, Mr. Buffett’s donation ― which astonished the world ― is actually one of the countless ships floating on the sea of sharing named the United States. A very big vessel, indeed.
What about us, then? Last year’s charitable donations in Korea totaled 214.7 billion won. This year, Samsung and Hyundai Motors alone promised to contribute 1.8 trillion won, more than eight times last year’s total donations.
This looks like two huge vessels stuck on the dry seabed. The government said it knew how to handle the money. That’s probably why the huge vessels wound up heading in opposite directions.
If we want to free up these vessels, we need to first fill the sea of sharing. We should not expect or call for big companies alone to make donations ― we need to do our share of sharing first.
The sea of sharing can be filled with many things rather than just money. We all have things to share. Owners of bakeries and restaurants can share bread and meals. Lawyers, professors and doctors can provide their specialty, knowledge and time.
A carpenter can provide his labor and a writer his or her books. Artists can show their works and performances for free and homemakers can do voluntary works.
Let’s make a small wave of our own to fill the ocean of sharing. The world then will become more beautiful and life will be more worth living.
* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Chung Jin-hong